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30-day-challenge2Day 2: How do you feel about your diagnosis?

Well it is day two of my 30 Day Mental Illness Awareness Challenge and since I only posted Day One’s posting very lat last night/very early this morning I feel like this is the second posting that I have written today.

But the truth is that I am very keen to try to do one of these every day for the next 30 days and so today’s posting is in line with that objective.

Today’s subject or question is “How do you feel about your diagnosis?” and it is a very important question isn’t it?

If I am honest (and certainly one of my objectives in this blog is always to be open and honest) I have mixed feelings concerning the diagnoses that I have received.

In my previous post I touched upon the difficulties experienced in even gaining a diagnosis and this – to some degree or another – has no doubt impacted my feelings concerning the diagnoses that I have received in respect of my mental health.

Having waited so long for a diagnosis (or set of diagnoses) which seem to ‘fit’ – or at least be readily acceptable to the most recent mental health practitioner in a long line of ever changing mental health practitioners that I have seen over the years – it (or they) are something which at least provide some form of identification, some form of label.  And for that I am grateful as it also means that I could personally research my mental conditions and disorders and gain from other people’s knowledge and experiences.  (After all isn’t that one of the fundamental reasons why I blog about my mental health?  In the hope that others may benefit from my knowledge and experiences.)

And yet that can appear a little strange can’t it? (As my mind seems to wander off down one of it’s many and all too frequent side journeys)  I mean, how many of us dislike having labels or being identified purely by a label?  I know that I do and/or have in the past!

There can be a conflict there can’t there?  A conflict between a ‘need to know’ and a desire to ‘not be known by’ or ‘limited by’ such a label or labels.

I am 52 years old now and the fact is that I truly believe (whilst I admit that cannot remember much of my early childhood) that I have experienced poor mental health or mental illness (depending on your preference of approach) for most if not all of my life.

Certainly, just like in my adulthood, I experienced in my childhood and youth thoughts and voices which seem to encourage me to think (and often to act) in ways which seemed so very different to my peers.  As an adult (and having a lifetime of experience and at least some understanding behind me) I have developed coping skills and management techniques to deal with said thoughts and voices and also have a very good support network to help me deal with my mental health issues.  But sadly none of these were available in my childhood or youth.

Why?  Well my being 52 years old is perhaps the biggest clue to the answer to that question.  I grew up in a time when mental illness was seen so very differently to how it is seen today.  (Although even today it seems we have a long way to go before we globally adopt a healthy approach and understanding of it)#

Children with mental health issues were (it is, I believe, true to say) seen as some sort of blot on the character of the parents.  They were seen as being damaged, defective, and the level of stigma which was attached to mental illness was incredible.

Additionally mental illness and poor mental health was not as understood as it is today.  For example, I am fairly confident making the statement that such things as ADD or ADHD were extremely rare and even unheard of back when I was born. In fact I think that it didn’t even become a recognized condition in America until the late 60’s.

Because of this I learned to hide or mask my conditions as best I could and additionally the resultant attitudes and behaviors from my mental health were sadly often seen (and trust me very much dealt with) as simple rebelliousness or  bad behavior.

I do sometimes reflect on past relationships with family or friends or the authority figures one experiences through my life and wonder how differently things might have turned out had I not hidden or masked my mental illness or had others known and understood them better?  In fact only yesterday one of the pastors of the church I attend, in delivering the teaching, made the following statement…

Many people arrive in the kingdom of God, who have experienced; great hurt, damage, rejection, trauma and some even devastation in their lives. Such experiences can have a negative outcome on a person’s life, leaving them impaired and hindered and stopping them from reaching their full potential.

And this statement (and indeed the whole teaching – an audio recording of which, if you are interested, can be found here,) led me to a lot of personal reflection.  But it is that conflict, which I mentioned above – “A conflict between a ‘need to know’ and a desire to ‘not be known by’ or ‘limited by’ such a label or labels.” which explain and make understandable my having masked and hidden my mental illness or poor mental health for so long and which still bring me to my mixed feelings concerning my diagnoses.

Yes, I have mental illnesses and yes these often impact of influence or even at times control the way I think or act at times but I am so much more than just my mental illnesses or poor mental health and I truly believe to allow others to see me, or even to see myself, only by those diagnoses or those labels would be so incredibly wrong and so incredibly damaging.

And this leads me to want to share the following videos from Youtube which speaks into this very issue…

Now let me be very clear here.  I personally would not go as far as the above video seems to want to go.  I personally believe that diagnosing mental health disorders in a person – young or old – can often be essential to providing them with the right medication, treatment, and support. Providing that this process is not allowed to become limiting or debilitating or harmful to that person and providing said diagnosis or diagnoses are not allowed to become restrictive labels!

And on that note let me share the other video from Youtube which I wanted to share and felt very relevant to this subject…

And I close (apologies for the length of this post – but I am extremely passionate about this subject) on this final thought.  I experience poor mental health and have mental illnesses.  They are, I fully accept, a significant part of who I am.  But I am so much more than them!  Likewise I am a Christian and that is very much a significant part of who I am.

Some people, it seems, are threatened or uncomfortable as a result of my admitting to my mental illnesses.  But then it could also be said that some people, it seems, are threatened or uncomfortable by my admitting to being a Christian.  And actually, some Christians are, it seems, threatened or uncomfortable with the idea that a Christian can even experience poor mental health or have mental illnesses.

But for me to deny either one would be a lie.

In truth I am truly sorry if my faith or my mental illnesses, and for that matter especially my faith despite my mental illnesses, threatens you or makes you uncomfortable.  But I invite you to look beyond your preconceptions and my labels and get to know me for who I am.  To look beyond the labels.